Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Reflections for the 26th Week in Ordinary Time, Part 2

Thursday – Rejoicing in the Law

In today's first reading, we see the Israelites gathered together before Jerusalem's Water Gate. Excitement hummed through the crowd of men, women, and children. Today was a very important day. Their city was finally restored. The Temple had been rebuilt, and now, thanks to Nehemiah, Jerusalem was surrounded by a solid wall. Today they would celebrate.

At daybreak, the priest Ezra took his place on a wooden platform in front of the assembly. A hush fell over the people as Ezra opened the scroll and began to read from the book of the Law. The whole group listened attentively to the words of God...and listened...and listened...and listened some more. As he read, Ezra explained each passage, telling the people what it meant and how it applied to them. The hours passed, but the listeners hardly noticed. They were intent upon God's word, entranced by Ezra's cogent commentary, and the tears began to slide down their cheeks.

As the sun rose high in the sky, the people raised their hands and echoed Ezra as he blessed their great and wonderful God. No other God had ever interacted with anyone like this. No other God had ever given such a remarkable Law. No other God had gathered a people for Himself and cared for them so tenderly, teaching them, guiding them, yes, punishing them when they sinned, but always bringing them back to Him. They were His family, after all. He had made a covenant with their ancestors, and God never broke His oaths. They and their ancestors had, however, been false to the covenant. They had spurned their loving God, turned their backs on Him, and disobeyed Him time after time. The tears flowed freely.

When Ezra finished reading, Nehemiah the governor stepped up and spoke to the now-weeping people. “Today is holy to the Lord your God,” he told them. “Do not be sad, and do not weep...Go, eat rich foods and drink sweet drinks, and allot portions to those who had nothing prepared; for today is holy to our Lord. Do not be saddened this day, for rejoicing in the Lord must be your strength!”

The people quieted down at Nehemiah's words. As the Levites moved through the crowd reinforcing Nehemiah's message, the atmosphere changed. The people broke out in a lively chatter and began to head for their homes, making plans for meals, music, and dancing. They now knew that God's Law was a cause for great joy, not sadness. 

Someone began to sing: “The law of the Lord is perfect, refreshing the soul; the decree of the Lord is trustworthy, giving wisdom to the simple.” Another voice answered, “The precepts of the Lord are right, rejoicing the heart; the command of the Lord is clear, enlightening the eye...” A third singer joined in: “The fear of the Lord is pure, enduring forever; the ordinances of the Lord are true, all of them just.” Finally, a fourth voice rang out, clear and rich: “They are more precious than gold, than a heap of purest gold; sweeter also than syrup or honey from the comb.” 

What an awesome God they had to give them such a beautiful Law in which to rejoice!

Friday – Covenant Curses

A covenant is a sacred bond, created by an oath and creating a family. Those who enter into a covenant give themselves to each other, swearing to be faithful forever. 

Throughout salvation history, God has created and renewed covenants with His people many times. In doing so, He gathers a family to Himself, and He gives Himself to His children as a loving, caring Father. In return, His children swear to obey Him and keep His commandments, surrendering themselves to His will. 

God's people, however, have a nasty habit of breaking covenants. When they do so, they call down upon themselves the covenant curses, the results of their sins and unfaithfulness. In swearing the covenant, they had agreed to keep it at all costs or face the consequences. 

In today's first reading, the Israelites lament the covenant curses that have fallen upon them. They admit that they and their ancestors have been disobedient and have sinned against God, disregarding His voice and forgetting all the blessings He had poured down upon them over the years. They had ignored and scorned the prophets who tried to warn them. They even served idols, hedging their bets just in case God didn't do what they wanted. Now they are suffering the consequences: exile and captivity in Babylon. 

We, too, live in a covenant with God. We, too, sin on a daily basis and must face the consequences of our wrong doing. Unlike the Israelites, however, we are blessed to have Someone Who has taken the covenant curses upon Himself, Someone Who dared to die for us, Someone Who holds out forgiveness that can be ours as soon as we repent and confess our sins. That Someone, Jesus Christ, God-made-Man, still calls us to covenant loyalty, and He offers us much greater rewards than just a return to the Promised Land of Israel; He gives us the opportunity to go home to Heaven.

Saturday – Childlike

Jesus says that God reveals hidden mysteries to those who are childlike. Reflect on that for a moment. Think about how children are filled with wonder and awe, how they are ready to believe, how they lack the skepticism and cynicism of many adults. Recall the innocence of little children and how they so trustingly run into their parents' arms for comfort. Consider how easily they smile and laugh, how open and honest they are, how they throw themselves fully into whatever they happen to be doing. 

Are we like children? We should be. Jesus tells us quite seriously that “whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will never enter it” (Luke 18:17). 

The kingdom of God belongs to those who are childlike, to those who let go of themselves and fall into God's arms.

Sunday, September 27, 2015

Reflections for the 26th Week in Ordinary Time, Part 1

Monday – God's Jealousy

In the first reading, God proclaims through the prophet Zechariah, “I am intensely jealous for Zion, stirred to jealous wrath for her.” The Hebrew is literally, “I am jealous with great jealousy for Zion, and I am jealous for her with great fury.” This is some major jealousy! 

To our modern minds, this sounds strange. It seems out of character for God to be jealous. We've been taught since childhood that jealousy is something negative that we must avoid. Yet God is perfect and all-loving, so this jealousy must be something different from our usual concept of it.

God deserves a full measure of our love. He has given us everything that we have and everything that we are. He holds us in existence at every moment. He keeps us breathing. He floods us with His grace. He wraps us in His love. He longs for us to love Him with all our heart and all our soul and all our strength and all our mind. 

When we don't, when we turn our attention to worldly things, when we love other things and even other people more than God, God is jealous. This isn't a human jealousy that pouts and sulks and gets angry. This is a jealousy that turns up the love. This is a jealousy that tries to win back the beloved. This is a jealousy that heats up to defeat the enemies and eliminate the distractions that lure away the beloved from the divine Lover. God's jealousy is love in action. It's a love of great desire that longs for the beloved to freely choose to bask in its light. It's a zeal that reaches out to recapture the heart of the beloved and draw it back into the safety of God's arms. 

God is jealous for His people. He cherishes us with a love beyond our understanding, and He will do anything to bring us into intimacy with Him and finally home to Heaven. After all, “He Who did not withhold His only Son, but gave Him up for all of us, will He not with Him give us everything else?” (Romans 8:32). 

Tuesday – A Litany to the Archangels

Lord, have mercy on us.
Christ, have mercy on us.
Lord, have mercy on us.
God the Father, have mercy on us.
God the Son, have mercy on us.
God the Holy Spirit, have mercy on us.
St. Michael, Prince of the Heavenly Host, pray for us.
St. Michael, leader of angels, guide us.
St. Michael, whose cry is “Who is like God,” protect us in our spiritual battles.
St. Michael, who cast Lucifer and the evil spirits into Hell, defend us.
St. Michael, champion of God's children, rescue us from the enemy at the hour of our death.
St. Gabriel, God's strength, pray for us.
St. Gabriel, who spoke to Zachariah about the birth of John the Baptist, guide us in God's will.
St. Gabriel, who announced the Incarnation of the Word, whisper God's words in our hearts.
St. Gabriel, who comforted Jesus during His agony in the garden, strengthen us.
St. Raphael, whose name means “God has healed,” pray for us. 
St. Raphael, who guided Tobit on his journey, lead us along God's paths.
St. Raphael, who acted in disguise, help us see the hidden angels all around us.

Let us pray. Holy Archangels, St. Michael, St. Gabriel, and St. Raphael, God's messengers, pray for us, guide us, and defend us through life, and bear our souls up to God at the time of our death that we may worship God with you in Heaven forever.

Amen.

Wednesday – Letting Go

When we choose to follow Jesus, we must let go. 

We must let go of our sins. We must let go of our selfish ways. We must let go of ideas that don't agree with the teachings of the Church. We must let go of people who hold us back. We must let go of our desire for fame and fortune. We must let go of our fears. We must let go of our attachments to material things. We must let go of our grudges. We must let go of whatever prevents us from intimacy with God. 

We must let go of many things, but in return, we gain the one thing necessary. We gain God. We gain a share in His divine life. We gain an eternity in Heaven face to face with the God Who loves us more than we can ever imagine. 

Letting go doesn't seem so bad, does it?

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Reflections for the 25th Week in Ordinary Time, Part 2

Thursday – Speculation

Herod the tetrarch was nervous. Strange stories were reaching his ears, stories about Jesus of Nazareth. This Jesus, Herod learned, was preaching in synagogues all over the countryside, proclaiming that the Kingdom of God was at hand. He was drawing huge crowds and even challenging the Pharisees. Herod didn't mind that last part; the Pharisees were a pain, and he enjoyed seeing them put in their place once in a while. 

But there was more. According to the rumor, Jesus wasn't just preaching. He was healing people, people who shouldn't even be able to be healed, at least not by human means: a leper cleansed, a man with a withered hand made whole, a paralytic up and walking, a centurion's servant brought back from the brink of death, a demonic sane again, a bleeding woman healed. It was creepy, Herod thought, uncanny. 

And as if that weren't enough, there were two tales spreading around that seemed unbelievable. The first spoke of a widow's son over in Nain. He had died. That much was certain. Then Jesus showed up during the funeral procession, and all of a sudden, the fellow wasn't dead anymore. Herod shivered just thinking about it. 

He might have been able to dismiss it as a tall tale if not for a second story that related a similar incident. This time a young girl had died. Again, those present were positive that she was dead. The mourners were already weeping and carrying on. Then Jesus showed up with the girl's father. He went into the room where the girl lay, grasped her hand, and told her to get up. And she did! 

Something weird was definitely going on here. Who was this man Jesus anyway? Herod had heard much speculation. Some said He was Elijah, others another old prophet. Personally, Herod wondered if John the Baptist, the one he had beheaded (the memory made him wince), had come back to life. He knew one thing for sure. He wanted to see this Jesus. He wanted to talk to Him. Then maybe he could solve the mystery, get to the bottom of all these bizarre stories, and resume his normal, comfortable life. Just maybe...

Friday – Who Do You Say That I Am?

In today's Gospel, Jesus asks His disciples a question so important that it rings out through time and space and resonates in our hearts: “Who do you say that I am?”

Everyone who encounters Jesus must answer that question, and the way we respond can mean the difference between life and death, between Heaven and hell. 

Who is Jesus to you? Is He a character in a story? Is He a good man who was tragically killed? Is He a wise teacher? Is He a prophet? 

Who is Jesus to you? Is He your God and your Savior? Is He your best friend? Is He closer than a brother? Is He the love of your life? Is He the One Who died for you and opened the gates of Heaven for you? Is He the One you want to spend eternity with? 

Picture Jesus standing before you. He has a question for you, a question that must penetrate into the depths of your soul: “Who do you say that I am?” How will you answer?

Saturday – God's Indwelling Presence

“Sing and rejoice, O daughter Zion! See, I am coming to dwell among you, says the Lord. Many nations shall join themselves to the Lord on that day, and they shall be His people and He will dwell among you.” 

God spoke these words through the prophet Zechariah. The Jews had recently returned to Jerusalem after the exile, and they were busy rebuilding the Temple. God wanted to assure His children that His presence would return to His house and that He would once again dwell in the midst of His family. 

This remarkable prophecy, however, extends far beyond the days of restoration and the physical Temple. Looking back through the lens of Jesus Christ, we can see a deeper fulfillment of God's words that the Jews could not have even imagined.

God really did come to dwell among His people, in a concrete, physical way. The Second Person of the Blessed Trinity became incarnate, assumed a human body and soul, in Jesus Christ. He walked among His people, teaching them, healing them, forgiving them, dying for them, and opening the gates of Heaven to them. 

Even though He died, rose again, and ascended into Heaven, Jesus did not leave us. He is really present, Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity, in the Eucharist, and we can welcome Him into our bodies and hearts every day if we want to. Further, when we are in a state of grace, our Lord dwells within us, in the depths of our souls. 

God truly dwells among us even today, and He has indeed gathered believers from every nation into His family, the Church. Zechariah's prophecy has truly been fulfilled, and we should sing and rejoice in worship to the God Who longs to be with His people.

Sunday, September 20, 2015

Reflections for the 25th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Part 1

Monday – One

God wants all of His people to be one. He calls us to unity in the Holy Spirit, to be one Body in the one Spirit. He reminds us that we have one Lord, one faith, one baptism, and one hope. He is our one God, the Father of all. 

Who are we to break the unity that God so longs for us to possess? Yet we have done just that. Through our pride and stubbornness, we have shattered the oneness we were supposed to preserve. We've driven wedges and built walls. We squabble and bicker and get so caught up in our debates that God fades into the background. 

But, as St. Paul reminds us, each of us has been given the gift of grace to build up the Body of Christ. Some are teachers, others pastors, others prophets, and others evangelists. Some have other gifts according to God's generous plan. All of us, no matter what our talents and duties, are all called to strive for “the unity of faith and knowledge of the Son of God.” 

We must pray together for unity, asking God for an outpouring of His Holy Spirit upon His people. We must talk to each other and learn about each other so that we may recognize our similarities and work toward minimizing our differences. We must encounter each other with open minds and open hearts and really listen to each other. We must work together to serve the poorest among us and lift them up. We must truly love each other.

God will restore our unity in His own time, but we must keep praying, talking, listening, working, and loving to prepare for that day when we will all be one.

Tuesday – Restoration

They had been in exile for nearly 70 years. For decades they had dreamed of Jerusalem, remembering how they and their ancestors had entered into the Temple of God to offer Him sacrifice and worship. They had done all right in Babylon. They had raised their families and lived fairly normal lives, but at the heart of every Jew beat a desire to go home.

Finally the day arrived. King Darius had given permission for the Jews to return to their homeland and rebuild the house of their God. He even gave them money to start out.

It wasn't easy. Not everyone chose to return, at least not right away. They were comfortable where they were, comfortable enough to ignore the desire to go home and to refuse to take the risk. Those who did set out for the Promised Land faced a multitude of challenges. The people who had settled in their place didn't want to give back the territory. Supplies ran low. Rebuilding proved to be much more difficult than they had envisioned.

The leaders and prophets did their best to encourage the returnees. Haggai and Zechariah received prophetic words from God to guide them and, indeed, to chastise them when they put their personal rebuilding ahead of the reconstruction of the Temple. They soon learned that God wanted to be at the very center of the lives and their community. When they turned their focus to God's house, they quickly discovered that their restoration process went much more smoothly.

Finally, they finished. The new Temple was complete. It wasn't as grand as Solomon's Temple, but it was still God's house. God was again in the midst of His people. 

The people celebrated the dedication of the Temple with great joy, and they gratefully kept the Passover on the fourteenth day of the first month. It was so good to partake of the feast, so good to listen to the Law, so good to worship God, so good to be home. 

Wednesday – Remedial Punishment

God is the best of fathers. He loves His children without end, and He longs for them to reach their full potential and to share intimately in His divine life.

God's children, however, fall often. We are weak and sinful, selfish and greedy, materialistic and power-hungry. We break our promises. We fail to love our neighbors. We fail to love God.

All good fathers discipline their children, and God is no exception. Today's Psalm proclaims that God “scourges and then has mercy; He casts down to the depths of the nether world, and He brings up from the great abyss.”

God doesn't want to hurt us, but He needs to teach us a lesson. We must learn that sin has consequences, and we must experience those consequences so we learn to avoid sin in the future. So God, good Father that He is, disciplines us. He allows us to feel pain but only to heal us in a deeper way. He casts us down for a while but only to raise us up to a higher level. God is never vindictive. He takes no pleasure in punishing us. All He wants is to help us grow and to get rid of all the obstacles of our own making that stand between us and Him.

This is why the Psalmist praises God even in the midst of exile, fear, and pain. He realizes that in the end, God's discipline, accepted and even embraced, will help us let go of our sins and grow into God's love.

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Reflections for the 24th Week in Ordinary Time, Part 2

Thursday – Simon and the Sinful Woman

Simon the Pharisee looks at the woman in disgust. What in the world is she doing in his house? How did she get in? Here he is trying to throw a dinner party for Jesus, this new teacher with the strange ideas, and now he has to cope with this woman falling at the teacher's feet and actually washing them with her tears, drying them with her hair, and kissing them. She's even stinking up the place with all that ointment she's using to anoint Him! It's positively outrageous! 

This man can't possible be the prophet everyone says He is, Simon thinks to himself. If He were, He would know what this woman had done. He would know all about her abominable sins, and He wouldn't even let her touch Him. Simon sniffs. The sooner this party is over the better, he decides.

Then he catches Jesus looking at him and finds himself feeling a bit warm around the ears. “Simon, I have something to say to you,” Jesus says. Simon gulps and replies, “Tell me, teacher.”

Jesus proceeds to recount a little parable about two debtors, one who owed fifty days' wages and one who owed five hundred days' wages. Their creditor decided to forgive both of them their debts. Jesus then asks Simon, “Which of them will love him more?”

Simon knows where this is going, but he has to answer: “The one, I suppose, whose larger debt was forgiven.” Jesus nods in agreement. “You have judged rightly,” He responds.

Then He proceeds to make Simon very uncomfortable. Turning to the woman, Jesus tells Simon in no uncertain terms that she has treated Him with much greater love than Simon ever did. Simon squirms as Jesus points out that His host failed to provide any water to wash His feet or oil to anoint His head, or even the customary kiss of greeting. These are serious breaches in etiquette, and Simon gulps and turns red as Jesus continues by pointing out that the woman has more than made up for His host's neglect through her loving actions. She shows such great love, Jesus explains, because “her many sins have been forgiven.”

Finally, Simon, now wiping the sweat from his face, watches as Jesus turns to the woman and gently speaks the words she so longs to hear: “Your sins are forgiven....Your faith has saved you; go in peace.”

Simon hears his other guests mumbling, and he wonders along with them, as he longs to crawl under the table, “Who is this Who even forgives sins?”

Friday – Be Content

Are you content with what you have? Or do you always want something more? Do you share the money and possessions you have? Or do you grasp them tightly and hold them close?

St. Paul cautions us in today's first reading that “Those who want to be rich are falling into temptation and into a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires, which plunge them into ruin and destruction.” Wealth can and often does corrupt. It turns our attention away from God and can even become a false idol, drawing our eyes to the world that is passing away and holding us to the ground when we should be soaring up to God and His kingdom.

St. Paul even goes so far to call the love of money “the root of all evils” and warns that some people have even wandered away from the faith in their striving after wealth. 

What should we pursue instead? St. Paul tells us: “righteousness, devotion, faith, love, patience, and gentleness.” These are true riches. These will last beyond this world. These help us rise upward and grasp the eternal life that God is holding out as His gift to us. 

Don't be content with what you have. Don't let the things of this world hold you captive. Strive for more, not more money or more possessions, but more of the things that remain and most of all, more of God. Grasp Him tightly and hold Him close.

Saturday – What Kind of Soil?

What kind of soil is in your heart? Jesus invites each of us to honestly answer that question in today's Gospel.

Does your heart lack soil? Is it merely a path wandering through the world? If so, be careful, for the enemy can easily swoop in, grasp the seed of God's Word, and carry it away. 

Is your heart packed with rocky soil? Does it lack depth? If so, be careful, for God's Word will not take root where the moisture of His love has been blocked by stone. Temptations and trials will arise, and rootless faith will wither quickly.

Is your heart clogged with thorns? Do cares of the world and desires for material things pull your focus away from God? If so, be careful, for God's Word may produce fruit in you, but distractions may choke it, stunt it, and even kill it.

Is your heart filled with good soil? Is your inner environment rich and moist and ready to accept the seed of God's Word? If so, God's Word will take firm root and bear fruit a hundredfold.

How can we prepare the soil of our hearts and create a place where God's Word can bloom? First, we must pray. Prayer draws us into intimacy with the only One Who can help us prepare our hearts to receive Him. The more we pray with sincerity and love, the richer the soil of our hearts will become. Second, we must fast. Self-denial, in whatever form that takes, helps remove our imperfections and distractions, the rocks and thorns that can prevent God's Word from taking root in us. Third, we must practice love in action. Acts of love for others deepen and moisten the good soil of our hearts so the seed of God's Word can bear even more fruit.

What kind of soil is in your heart? And what are you going to do about it?

Sunday, September 13, 2015

Reflections for the 24th Week in Ordinary Time, Part 1

Monday – A Type of the Cross

The Israelites were first-rate complainers. As they traveled through the desert on the way to the Promised Land, they kept up a steady stream of whining that was enough to get on anyone's nerves. Even though God miraculously provided everything they needed (manna for food and water flowing from a rock), they always wanted more. 

Their complaining quickly reached the level of sinful mistrust and ungratefulness, and God sent serpents among the people as punishment. After a few Israelites had died from snakebites, the people finally got the message and repented of their sin. They asked Moses to intercede for them and to beg God to take away the serpents.

God told Moses to make a bronze serpent and lift it up on a pole. Anyone who had been bitten would only have to look at the bronze serpent in order to survive.

This seems a bit strange, doesn't it? First off, notice that God didn't take away the serpents completely. Sin has consequences, and sometimes, like a good father, God has to let His people experience those consequences. He did, however, provide a remedy and, at the same time, a type of the cross.

A type is a foreshadow or prefiguration. The Bible is filled with types. Old Testament events and people foreshadow the events and people of the New Testament. Moreover, both Testaments have elements that prefigure the Church and the Christian life. 

The bronze serpent on a pole, then, prefigures, foreshadows, and is a type of the cross of Jesus Christ. God invested healing power in that metal serpent, which served as a symbolic representative of the people's sin and punishment, but the people who had been bitten had to turn and look at it to access that power. 

Reflect for a moment on Jesus as He hung on the cross. He took upon Himself all of our sins and their punishment. He died in our place, and God invested Him with healing power. By His death on the cross, Jesus merited forgiveness for our sins. He healed our relationship with God. He opened the gates of Heaven. Of course, the reality of Jesus on the cross far outshines the shadowy type of the bronze serpent on a pole, but God dropped many hints throughout salvation history to guide us closer and closer to the ultimate Truth He revealed in His Son Jesus Christ. 

Tuesday – Integrity

“I will persevere in the way of integrity...” The Psalmist makes this promise to God in today's Psalm. A little later, he makes another pledge: to bring only people of integrity into his service and companionship.

What is integrity? In English, the word typically refers to wholeness. Someone with integrity is sound in character, morally upright, and sincere. The Hebrew word, tâmı̂ym, goes even further. A person with tâmı̂ym is perfect in the sense of being complete and innocent. He or she lives according to the truth and strives to possess a blameless heart. 

Are we people of integrity? Do we, like the Psalmist, endeavor to live our lives to the fullest? Do we seek to be complete human beings as God designed us to be? Do we value innocence and truth? Do we aim to follow God's moral law? When we fail and fall to pieces, do we seek God's forgiveness and allow Him to put us back together? Do we pray to God for the gift of integrity, knowing that He is the One Who can make us whole in Him if only we allow Him to do so?

Wednesday – Never Satisfied

In today's Gospel, Jesus observes that the people of His day are just never satisfied. First, He says, they look at John the Baptist and think he's a nut because he fasts and abstains from wine. But then, they look at Jesus and complain because He does eat and drink and hangs around with sinners and tax collectors at that. 

What do these people really want? They can't seem to make up their minds. Perhaps they simply want to be comfortable. They don't appreciate being challenged by asceticism when they enjoy their creature comforts. Yet their religious sensibilities are offended when a teacher (as they labeled Jesus) doesn't seem to discipline himself properly. They certainly don't want to associate with individuals they feel are beneath them, and they don't want others to do so either. 

Doesn't that sound familiar? Modern people aren't really much different from Jesus' fellow Israelites. We, too, are never satisfied. We, too, want to be comfortable, so we bristle at challenges. We have certain standards for others even though we don't care to meet them ourselves, and there are people we simply want nothing to do with. 

But this isn't Jesus' way. Christianity is both uncomfortable and challenging. Jesus actually wants us to be never satisfied...but with ourselves rather than with others. He calls us out, prods us to change, leads us into new situations, and introduces us to new people. He nudges us into self-denial, pushes us to adopt new habits, and opens up perspectives we never could have imagined. In the process, He draws us closer and closer to Himself, making sure that we are never satisfied until we are at home in Heaven.

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Reflections for the 23rd Week in Ordinary Time, Part 2

Thursday – Judging

Many times in this modern world we hear people say, “Don't judge me,” or “Jesus says not to judge,” or even “Who are you to judge me?” They usually say this when they are breaking some moral law and don't want to hear that what they are doing is wrong.

At first glance, today's Gospel seems to prove them right. Jesus does indeed say, “Stop judging and you will not be judged.” But what does He mean? The Greek verb for judge, krinō, can help us understand. The word means to bring someone to trial and to determine that person's innocence or guilt.

We can't, of course, do that. We don't know whether or not someone is innocent or guilty before God. Only He can read the depths of people's hearts. Only He can understand the intricacies of a person's motivations and culpability. Only He can know whether a person gave full consent to a sin or knew that it was wrong at the time he or she committed it. That's why Jesus tells us not to judge; we can't see into the depths of a person the way God can.

That being said, however, we do have the responsibility to call sin what it is: sin. In Luke 17:3, Jesus says, “If your brother sins, rebuke him.” In Matthew 18, He elaborates further, “If your brother sins [against you], go and tell him his fault between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have won over your brother. If he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, so that ‘every fact may be established on the testimony of two or three witnesses.’ If he refuses to listen to them, tell the church. If he refuses to listen even to the church, then treat him as you would a Gentile or a tax collector.” 

The moral law is objective. God established it, and it does not change. We must recognize sin where we see and it label it for what it really is. This is actually love. Love is to will the absolute best for another person. Sin is definitely not the best, so when we see people falling into serious sin, it is actually an act of love, not a judgment, to tell them that they are heading down a wrong and dangerous road. We can't judge their hearts, but we can certainly look at their actions and say whether they are right or wrong according to the moral law. We can, and indeed, we must.

Friday – Seeing Clearly

In today's Gospel, Jesus invites us to see ourselves clearly. “Why do you notice the splinter in your brother’s eye,” He asks, “but do not perceive the wooden beam in your own?...Remove the wooden beam from your eye first; then you will see clearly to remove the splinter in your brother’s eye.”

We are all sinners. We all have many faults. We all get on other people's nerves. We can all be incredibly annoying and frustrating at times. 

Usually, though, we are quick to notice others' failings but pretty slow to recognize our own. This is why Jesus tells us to remove the beam from our own eyes before we work on getting a splinter out of someone else's eye. We need to help ourselves first. We need to repent of our sins and to bring our failures to God with contrite hearts. We need to allow Him to remove the beam of sin that keeps us pinned down. We need to accept His mercy and grace and love. 

Only then we will be ready to pass those gifts along to others. Only then we will be able to act with love to correct our neighbors and help them remove the splinters of sin from their lives. 

Saturday – The Name of the Lord

“Praise, you servants of the Lord, praise the Name of the Lord. Blessed be the Name of the Lord both now and forever.”

God's Name, the one He revealed to Moses, is “I am.” His Name is more than just the word we use to call on Him or designate Him. As is often the case in the Bible, a name refers to a person's deepest character. A person's name tells us who that person really is in his heart of hearts. God is Being Himself. 

This is why we praise God's Name. When we do that, we are praising God for His very Being. We are blessing Him and glorifying Him as the all-mighty, all-loving, all-wise, all-present God. We are acknowledging His power and His justice and His mercy. We are proclaiming Who God is, and we are bowing before Him in humble worship, pouring out our love and offering Him everything we have and everything we are.

Therefore, praise God's holy Name! Bless His Name forever and ever!

Sunday, September 6, 2015

Reflections for the 23rd Week in Ordinary Time, Part 1

Monday – Subjective Redemption

In today's first reading, St. Paul says something rather mysterious. Let's listen to his words again: “I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am filling up what is lacking in the afflictions of Christ on behalf of His Body, which is the Church...”

We might wonder what could possibly be lacking in the sufferings of Christ. After all, He did everything perfectly, right down to His afflictions. Further, if there ever could be something lacking in the afflictions of Christ, how could Paul, a mere mortal, ever fill in the gaps?

To solve this dilemma, we need to understand the difference between objective redemption and subjective redemption. In terms of objective redemption, Jesus has done everything to free us from our sins and bring us to Heaven to be with Him forever. His sacrifice on Calvary was perfect. He has made available everything we need. 

So what could be lacking? This is where subjective redemption comes into play. The redemption that Jesus earned for us on the Cross has not yet reached every human being. The multitude of graces God is pouring out has not touched every human life. 

Here's where we can help. We can offer up our prayers, sufferings, and good works to spread the graces around to everybody. God allows us to cooperate with Him in this process of subjective redemption. Under God's loving supervision, our prayers can melt a cold heart; our sufferings can change a life; and our good works can release an outpouring of grace into someone's soul. 

We will never completely understand how this works, but we know that it does work because God has told us so. As Blaise Pascal once remarked, God has given us “the dignity of being causes.” We may never see it or know it, but by our filling up of what is lacking in the afflictions of Christ, our prayers, sufferings, and good works can make a dramatic difference in another person's life and eternity.

Tuesday – Little Town of Bethlehem

It might seem rather odd to talk about Bethlehem on this Feast of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary. After all, wasn't Jesus the One born there? Of course! But Bethlehem was also central to Mary's life and mission. 

Let's reflect on Bethlehem for a few minutes.

The name Bethlehem actually means “house of bread.” How appropriate! The One Who would be born there would be the Bread of Life for the whole world. 

Bethlehem was the home of King David. David started out an insignificant shepherd boy, overlooked by his father and brothers. He may have been a nobody to his family, but he definitely wasn't to God. Through the prophet Samuel, God anointed David to be the king of Israel, and after many struggles and hardships, he became exactly that. Under David's rule, Israel finally attained peace, and David prepared to build God a Temple. God, however, had other plans. David's son Solomon would build the Temple, but God would build a “house” for David, too. He would establish a dynasty, a family line, that would reach its climax in an Anointed One, a Messiah, who would be King over Israel forever.

The birth of this King would take place in Bethlehem, as we learn in today's first reading from the prophet Micah. From this tiny town, not even big enough to receive a clan designation, would one day come forth a Ruler like no other, a Ruler with ancient origins (as in eternally begotten!), a Ruler who would shepherd His flock in the Name of God, a Ruler who wouldn't just bring peace – He would be peace.

Mary would've known about this prophecy. For her whole life, she would have joined her fellow Jews in looking toward Bethlehem for any possible news of the Messiah. Imagine her delight when she discovered that she would be the woman mentioned in Micah's prophecy. She was the one who would give birth to Israel's King.

Mary must have wondered, though, how God would fulfill the prophet's prediction that the Messiah would be born in Bethlehem. Mary, after all, lived in Nazareth, and that was far away from King David's hometown. But God always has a plan. The Roman census brought Mary and Joseph to Bethlehem just in time for Jesus' birth. Micah's prophecy came true (of course), and the little town of Bethlehem became the birthplace of the Messiah.

Wednesday – Seek What Is Above

What are you seeking? A good job? An education? Wealth? Nice things? Fame? Power? Honor? Do you focus your attention on earthly things? On the material world? 

If so, St. Paul has an important message for you: “If you were raised with Christ, seek what is above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. Think of what is above, not of what is on earth.”

Christians have been raised with Christ. In our Baptism, we entered into His death and then rose to new life. We are His now. Our lives are entwined with His. His divine life fills our souls when we maintain the state of grace we received at Baptism.

Therefore, we must seek what is above. Our whole focus must be on Christ. Our hearts must be where He is. Our goal must first and foremost be to get home to Heaven. “Seek first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness,” Jesus tells us. Then everything else will fall into place for us according to God's loving plan.

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Reflections for the 22nd Week in Ordinary Time, Part 2

Thursday – How to Pray for One Another

In his letter to the Colossians, St. Paul assures his audience of his unceasing prayers. Then he proceeds to tell them exactly what and how he is praying for them. In doing so, he gives us an important lesson about how we are to pray for others. Let's look closely at St. Paul's prayers.

* St. Paul prays that the Colossians will be filled with the knowledge of God's will.
* He prays for spiritual wisdom and understanding for them.
* He asks that they live in a manner that is worthy of God.
* He requests that his hearers will be completely pleasing to God.
* He begs that every good work of theirs will bear good fruit.
* He hopes that the Colossians will attain strength through God's power and might.
* He offers his prayer for their patience and endurance.
* He asks that they may find joy and may give thanks to God always.
* He prays that they may recognize and share in their inheritance as God's children.
* He reminds them that they have been forgiven, freed from darkness, redeemed by the Son, and made members of the Kingdom of God.

How often do we pray like this for our beloved family members and friends? It is certainly acceptable to ask God for their health and well being and for material favors, but St. Paul's prayers are one of the highest expressions of love in prayer that we find in Scripture. He requests the best of the best for the Colossians. Shouldn't we do the same for those we love and, indeed, for everyone?

Friday – Joy

Today's Psalm invites us to joy. Christians ought to be joyful people. We've got everything going for us. Our God created us as unique individuals and then invited us to share in His own divine life. He became Man and died for our sins so that we could share in that life and live with Him in Heaven forever. He has a plan for each one of us that works out for our very best if only we cooperate with Him. He loves us more than we can ever imagine. He is faithful to us forever and never turns His back on us. When we sin and turn our backs on Him, He waits for us, and then He opens His arms wide to welcome us back the moment we repent and confess our sins. He showers us with mercy and compassion and kindness. He pours grace upon us, actual grace to help us at every moment of the day and sanctifying grace, which is His very presence in our souls. He hears and answers all of our prayers.

Just think...our all-powerful, all-wise, all-present God is also all-loving, and He wants to be in an intimate relationship with each and every one of us. He holds us in His hands and never lets go. Why shouldn't we be filled with joy?

Saturday – The Way, the Truth, and the Life

Today's Gospel Acclamation reminds us of something very important. Listen to it again: "I am the way and the truth and the life, says the Lord; no one comes to the Father except through Me."

Anyone who has ever gone to Heaven or will ever go to Heaven has been or will be saved by Jesus Christ. There are no exceptions. He is the one way. He is the ultimate truth. He is life itself, eternal Life. No one comes to the Father except through Him.

Does this mean that anyone who isn't Christian will not get into Heaven? The Church says no. There is hope for non-Christians to go home to God. We Catholics, however, are blessed. We have the fullness of the faith. We have every means that God has given us to help us get home to Him. But He is not limited to those means. In His own mysterious way, He interacts with people of many faiths and perhaps even with people who don't think they have faith at all.

That being said, however, anyone who is saved is only saved by Jesus Christ. Judaism does not save. Islam does not save. Buddhism does not save. Hinduism does not save. Paganism does not save. The New Age movement does not save. Only Jesus saves. He is the only road to Heaven. He is the only path to the Father. He is the only highway home.

Only Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life. Take some time today to meditate on that remarkable revelation.